Review – General’s Handbook & Campaign Pack

The all new General’s Handbook for Age of Sigmar has landed on my desk, so we should dive in and see exactly what is what! This is the most important release for the game since its launch last year, so this review is going to be a little longer than usual. We’ll also take a look at the Campaign Pack that was sent to retailers at the same time…

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This is a book that suggests new ways of playing Age of Sigmar, using three main methods: Open Play, Narrative Play and Matched Play. Along the way, it includes Battleplans, the core rules and yes, a points system, so the General’s Handbook really does  contain everything needed to play Age of Sigmar with no other purchases (except, of course, an army!). I have not seen the price of this softback yet but £15 has been suggested – if that is the case, this may well be one of the best value books GW have ever produced.

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Open Play is the version of Age of Sigmar that many players have been using up to this point – simply set up two armies, choose a Battleplan (or not, though it is usually best), and then just go for it. So far, so simple.

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The main addition here is the rules set for multiplayer games. These are divided into Coalition of Death games which feature two opposing teams, and Triumph & Treachery games which have each player fighting on their own, no matter how many are on the table.

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New Battleplans have been created for these multiplayer games, two for Coalition of Death (King of the Hill and The Fog of War), and four for Triumph & Treachery (Field of Blood, Artefact of Ultimate Power, Might is Right, and Tower of Screaming Death).

It might be a shame that this is the section of the book that gets used the least, due to its lack of structure. That said, it does not consume many pages and if you are just looking for a knockabout fight one one club night between 5 players, it has everything you need for an evening’s entertainment. However, I think the majority of players will be flicking quickly to the other two sections…

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Narrative Play has been my hobby horse in Age of Sigmar, as any regular reader knows. We have been using a mixture of what is now Open and Narrative Play, using the Battleplans and storylines from the Realmgate Wars books to play through the main storyline of Age of Sigmar. So, I am going to have a healthy interest in this section!

Narrative Play is, quite simply, tying a storyline to the games you play. So, instead of just putting a Lord-Celestant on Dracoth on the table, you are instead using Lord-Celestant Vandus Hammerhand, who has been charged with liberating the Brimstone Peninsula from the vile hands of the Bloodbound. The models you use have backgrounds, histories, desires and goals, and the battles they participate bring them closer to or further from those goals. I heard one of the GW designers describe it as creating a movie on the tabletop where the two players are the directors, and that is a good fit. Age of Sigmar seems to do this particularly well, and a snap shot from an average battle could well serve as the basis from a scene in Lord of the Rings, say.

There are plenty of ideas on the types of narratives you can ‘forge’ in just the first two pages of this section, but they are backed up with  Battleplans too. Some, we have seen before in other books (Raging Fury, Hold or Die, War of Storms, and Consumed will all be familiar with hardcore Age of Sigmar players), but there are new Battleplans too.

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These are laid out in the same way as those from the Realmgate Wars books, with a four page narrative that describes the events behind the battle, followed by the Battleplan. Over the Abyss is set in the Realm of Fire, pitching the Celestant-Prime and his Stormcasts against a Bloodthirster and its minions across a bridge spanning the Black Chasm.

For the first time in Age of Sigmar, however, the exact forces have been listed on the Battleplan, so you can just grab the correct models and start playing )nothing stopping you from switching out units or entire forces, of course, to create your own narrative based on the Battleplan!). Don’t expect an easy ride if you are collecting from scratch though, as the Chaos force alone has eight units of Bloodletters and two Blood Thrones (among other things), so these are not small armies by any means. This is something, incidentally, that I was a little afraid of when I heard GW would be ‘speccing’ forces – they would be a little on the large side.

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The next Battleplan is called The Fate of Shyish, under the grand heading of The Death of Nagash.

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This is a ‘historical’ battle that took place long before the Realmgate Wars and is, I think (from my current limited understanding), a prequel of sorts to the Clash of Titans Battleplan found in Battletome: Everchosen. Which means, of course, you have a little campaign right there, using this Battleplan followed by Clash of Titans to tell the tale of Archaon’s long running fight with Nagash!

Again, the armies are listed and, again, they are on the large side (to be fair, this is an epic battle). However, the idea of 20 Hexwraiths, 120 Skeletons, 9 Crypt Ghouls and 10 Blood Knights (!) alone might make some players think twice about aiming for these lofty heights. And that is before you get to the Chaos army.

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This is followed by eight pages of photography, illustrating just how cool your gaming table is going to look if you ever amass armies of this scale…

Narrative Play does not end with linking Battleplans and telling your own story, however. GW has backed it up with a series of campaigns, systems whereby one battle affects another.

The first is Path to Glory, which will be familiar to Chaos players who picked up the ebooks from Black Library last Christmas. In a nutshell, you pick a leader, then roll for or choose their retinue. You then play through a variety of battles to accrue Glory Points. The player to first gain a certain number of Glory Points (the default is 10, but you can change that for shorter or longer campaigns – 10 will see you complete the campaign over a long Saturday or lazy weekend) wins!

The big change between what is presented here and the Path to Glory campaign released last Christmas, however, is that it is no longer restricted to Chaos forces.

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Warband tables have been included not only for Chaos forces, but also Stormcasts, Fyreslayers, Skaven, Ironjawz, Sylvaneth and Death armies. It is very easy to imagine that not only is this quite a simple list for GW to expand upon later with new forces, but a great many will start springing up, designed by players, to handle older forces – I would expect to see Freeguild warband tables appearing online very quickly!

Path to Glory has two Battleplans included, both from the Christmas release (The Monolith and Beast’s Lair – the latter is quite fun!), but you can use any Battleplans for this campaign. Simply agree a Battleplan with your opponent and fight!

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Map and Tree campaigns are covered next, giving further options for Narrative Play.

Map campaigns feature, well, a map that includes territories which must be fought over and claimed. Maps can be drawn, but the old Mighty Empires tiles would work very well here. The example given in this section actually uses a Realm of Battle board, but that might be going too far for most players!

Each territory claimed gives a bonus to your force in future battles (The City of Hallowguild increases your general’s command abilities by 6″, for example – and you can, of course, create your own territories), and the campaign is fought over a certain number of rounds (6 is suggested). The player with the most territories at the end of this is the winner.

Tree campaigns start with a single Battleplan and who wins that fight determines which Battleplan is played next – it is very simple, and you can see the example GW created for this book. The premise of this example campaign is simple, with two armies each possessing a Realmgate and wanting to take another away from their enemy. To do this, GW has created 6 unique Battleplans to play through the campaign (I’ll be giving this one a go!) but when you create your own Tree campaign, you can of course use any existing Battleplan rather than make yours from scratch. There are certainly enough to choose from in Age of Sigmar!

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Finally, Matrix campaigns are presented. This cross references strategies chosen by the players which results in special rules being applied to a Battleplan. For example, one player may opt to flank the enemy by advancing through the Grim Crags, while his enemy instead chooses to send out scouts to spy on the enemy. Using the matrix, this will result in one side being delayed while the other launches an ambush.

If you have never played a campaign, I will tell you the same thing that anyone else who has played a campaign has ever told you – try it. It does not matter which of these systems you go for, I just urge you to try campaign play. Other people may have told you that campaigns are the pinnacle of tabletop gaming.

Well.. they are right!

It would be a fond hope of mine that the General’s Handbook gets more players involved in campaign play. It really is a side of gaming that should be tried by everyone.

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The we come to Matched Play, the competitive points-based system for Age of Sigmar. And, I suspect, the part of the book that will get the most use.

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Presented first is a Ladder campaign system – not to be confused with Narrative Play, a ladder campaign is effectively a simple league system whereby players compete to be top dog, moving up the ‘rungs’ of the ladder by winning games. This is just a preamble, really, a way to structure competitive games, before we move into the meat of this section – Pitched Battles.

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Anyone who has played Fantasy Battle or 40k will be very comfortable with the Pitched Battles system. You have a set points value, which dictates how many points you have but also how many Leaders, Battleline units, Artillery and Behemoths you can have in your force. For example, at 2,000 points (defined as a Battlehost), you can have 1-6 Leaders, up to 4 each of Artillery and Behemoths, and you must have at least 4 Battleline units (all of these are defined a bit later on).

Rules are also added to handle some specific situations, such as summoning, Triumphs, how to reinforce armies and, of course the Three Rules of One (which limit spellcasting, extra attacks and make any roll of 1 a failure).

Summoning, incidentally, is handled well. You can think of it as a type of Deep Strike, but units come from a points ‘pool’ that is deducted from when they appear. This means you do not have to decide what you are summoning until the game is actually in progress, thus you can choose what to summon based upon the Battleplan and your opponents army (and your remaining points, of course).

Could be some interesting tactics coming from that…

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Six Battleplans are also included specifically for Pitched Battles, balanced so neither side is favoured: Take and Hold, Blood and Glory, Escalation, Border War, Three Places of Power, and Gifts from the Heavens. These are all one page Battleplans and they have less of the special rules we normally see in Age of Sigmar – but then, that is the point. They have been designed to give balanced objectives to competitive forces.

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A battle report follows, pitching 2,000 point Stormcast and Chaos Daemon armies against one another, giving a good demonstration how Pitched Battles come together.

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Then comes the part of the book that will probably get the most scrutiny – the Pitched Battle Profiles or, in other words, points!

This covers units from each of the Grand Alliances, giving each unit sizes (minimum and maximum), points costs, and their Battlefield Role (whether they are a Leader, Battleline unit, etc). The units that are Battleline (the equivalent of Core or Troops) are defined by the Grand Alliance they are from (so, Gors are Battleline for Chaos, for example) but some units can become Battleline if your entire army follows a specific allegiance within that Grand Alliance. For example, if your army is Warherd, then Ungor Raiders become Battleline (they are usually ‘other’, having no set role) or, if you are playing an Everchosen force, the Varanguard become Battleline (heavens help your opponent!).

And yes, all the old armies are included too, so you can use your Bretonnians and Tomb Kings in Matched Play with just this book (and Warscroll downloads)!

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Layered on top of all of this are Allegiance Abilities. These give flavourful abilities to an army, depending on the allegiance it has. These are split into three:

Battle Traits are army-wide rules. Command Traits are used by generals, while Artefacts can be given to Heroes. The Allegiance Abilities for Order armies are shown above, but others are included for Chaos, Death and Destruction (and I have a feeling we will see rules like this for sub-factions down the line…).

And that is the General’s Handbook!

With the core rules at the back, it really is everything someone needs to play Age of Sigmar (ably assisted by the free app or Warscroll downloads). If the £15 price mark is correct, there really is no reason not to pick this book up if you are even mildly curious about GW Fantasy. And if you are already well into Age of Sigmar… this is the book you have been looking for, no matter which of the three styles of play you end up using (or combining, for that matter!).

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The General’s Handbook was not the only thing retailers have received – the summer Season of War campaign is due to start, and there is plenty of support material in the bundle! The Season of War booklet forms the core of this package, and it outlines the campaign and the premise behind it.

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In a nutshell, great cities have been built by the forces of Order around Realmgates, from which the good guys can start smacking Chaos. The greatest is Hammerhal, the Twin-tailed city, so called because it straddles a Realmgate into both the Realms of Fire and Life. However, there is also the Living City (Alarielle’s own pad), the Greywater Fastness (full of engineers, and their careless construction has really annoyed the Sylvaneth), and the Phoenicum (where the Phoenix Temple is a Big Deal).

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The cities are the objectives for the campaign, and it is not just Chaos that will be wading in – you can be sure the forces of Death and Destruction will be playing a key part.

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Battles are arranged, and results recorded on the Season of War web site. However, interestingly, it is not just battle results that can be reported, but also painted Warscrolls of miniatures.

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Four new Battleplans are provided, ostensibly one for each week of the campaign. These do not require massive armies by any means (though they can handle them) with A Clash of Battle Lines requiring at least three units of ten models at the bottom end.

The other Battleplans are A Champion Emerges (battling Heroes), Might of Monsters (go big guys), and Raze and Ruin (which encourages – but does not make compulsory – the use of the Dreadhold).

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Finally, you get some cool counters to use during games (very useful!).

This week might well be a veritable hammer blow for Age of Sigmar. As well as the campaign to get everyone’s blood up, the General’s Handbook not only contains what many people have been asking for from the game, it also supports (very heavily) those who have already dived in. It is not a change in Age of Sigmar but a vast widening of its breadth.

Basically, if you are into GW Fantasy, there is now something in Age of Sigmar for you, whatever direction you are coming from.

And then, of course, there are those lovely Sylvaneth models whose pictures have just been leaked…

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12 Responses to “Review – General’s Handbook & Campaign Pack”

  1. Tony Says:

    Excellent review can’t wait to get my hands on this book

  2. Circus of Paint Says:

    Skaven warbands, are they mostly Verminus, themed to one of the Greater clans or everything mixed up?

  3. Curtis Says:

    This book has definitely brought interest for age of sigmar back into my flgs. I even picked up a bunch (400) of round bases to switch out some of my forces.

  4. pascualanaya Says:

    Great review! I am actually quite excited about this book. Not for the point system, since I don’t like the comp side of wargames or think that it will be balanced anyway (I still have to play a game in which any army -ANY- of the same point cost are actually balanced). I am excited because I think this will bring more people into the game and then I hope, deeeeeply hope, that a community of sorts will form in Japan… For a year, I have been am just collecting books and models to look at them on my own…

    • Nikolai Tsekov Says:

      Warmahordes is balanced, just not for every caster in every battle.

      Infinity is completely balanced just based on points, give or take few models that are obviously lacking (but that changes often and always to better).

      AoS seems well balanced so far, although with the number of possibilities in army composition it is not possible to fine balance it.

  5. backtothehammer Says:

    Question, are all the old army miniatures listed in the book as in the ‘order’ book they had left out a number of units


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